Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nevermind: Kurt Cobain's Effects Pedals!

If you're like me, you've used and enjoyed various incarnations of Electro-Harmonix's Big Muff pedals for years. However, with the release of Nevermind (1991), Kurt Cobain single-handedly reintroduced guitarists to the sonic capabilities of Electro-Harmonix's lesser known pedals, including the SmallClone analog chorus. Whether you're a cover band playing weekend gigs, a basement jam band, or simply a Pedal Nut like me, it is virtually impossible to cover the songs of Nirvana and particularly Kurt Cobain's guitar tone without a sampling of two or three key stomp box pedals.

That's why we ask the question: Was Kurt Cobain a Pedal Nut? You bet your ass. Here's the proof:
  • Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion - No introduction is necessary for this pedal. Standard Boss casing and three knob configuration (level, tone, distortion), with the added bonus of a turbo knob. Set the tone and distortion near the maximum, and turn the turbo knob to "II" in order to zone in on Cobain's tone. Of course, the pick-ups on your guitar, the amplification, and volume at which you are playing will weigh heavily on your overall distorted tone. But the added turbo boost provided by the Boss DS-2 pedal should enable you to distort the cleanest sounding amplifiers. Used DS-2 pedals are readily available on and for about $50.00. But why not treat yourself to a new one for $90.00 (presently as low as $40.00 at Musicians Friend).
  • Electro-Harmonix Big Muff - While the DS-2 distortion is known to have been a mainstay on Cobain's pedal board (look at the photographs in the In Utero liner notes), I personally prefer the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff pedal. At low volumes, at which most of us typically play, the Big Muff provides a dirtier, dare I say grungier, tone. Of course, if you're playing live on a weekly basis and wish to faithfully reproduce the tones on Nevermind, the DS-2 Distortion is the pedal for you.
  • Electro-Harmonix SmallClone - This pedal is a must if ever you intend to perform a rendition of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Come as You Are" for an audience of more than three people (your parents excluded). Set the rate knob at the 3 o'clock position and slide the depth switch down to experience the rapid, yet deep, chorus preferred by Kurt Cobain. If you're lucky, you'll find a vintage version of this pedal on but not for less than $150.00. The range of sounds available on vintage SmallClone's is considered to be more expansive, but for the purpose of replicating the sounds on Nirvana's Nevermind album, the reissue SmallClones from Electro-Harmonix are more reliable. From my experience, vintage SmallClone's that have survived Punk and post-Punk New Wave tours smell funny (and certainly nothing like teen spirit).
  • For the Amp Nuts - If you have money left over after buying the Boss DS-2 and Electro-Harmonix SmallClone, and want to take your Nevermind-inspired playing to the next level, why not finish off with the proper amplification? Start with a rack-mounted Mesa/Boogie Studio preamp, a Crest 4801 power amp (or two depending on your budget), and a Marshall 4x12 cabinet. Tweak the settings on the Mesa Boogie Studio preamp to dial in on the right tone, but be sure to use the clean channel with the midrange set quite high.


Anonymous said...

he used the ds-1 on nevermind. he used the ds-2 on in utero. get your facts straight

Anonymous said...

all good leaning whatever he used but dont try to copy. try your own style!! nevermind...

Anonymous said...

i found on the ds 2 pedal if you turn the distortion to max and the tone to around 11 o clock its best. also kurt never used the 2nd turbo switch it was always the first turbo switch